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Thread: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

  1. #1
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    Default Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Just a caution to anyone tempted by the web special offers at www.bill-lewington.co.uk. I appreciate that they are mostly wholesale, but they really could put a bit more effort into dealing with private buyers if they're going to offer individual items for sale like this. A few months ago it took over a week of non-returned phone calls to establish that an item listed was not in fact available. Just recently I ordered a couple of tenor cases. They arrived promptly enough, rattling around in a box 5ft x 2ft x 2ft, accompanied by an insufficient amount of that plastic wrapping made up of air-filled pouches. One case was as described but the other (supposed to be "ex-demo" and with an interior "like new") was secondhand - it actually had one of those cloth school name tapes sewn in! - and with tears in the lining.

    They deliver via UPS, who do not collect from private addresses, so the only way to return it would be via the post office, trusting Lewington's to reimburse the carriage. I reckon it would take half an hour to adapt their ludicrous packaging to contain a single case securely, the post office is a 20-minute drive each way. It was only a cheap item and the return postage would probably cost them not much short of £10.00, so I figured it would make everyone's life easier to explain the demands on my time and offer to accept a £10.00 credit card refund and leave it at that.

    I spoke to two different people, spent ten minutes on hold at my expense, and was finally told that their standard procedures could not possibly allow such an irregular arrangement, and the case would have to be sent back and inspected. To my mind this is just being inflexible and unhelpful for the sake of it, and I would advise anyone interested in one of their offers to talk to someone who has the item in front of them, and make quite sure it is as described, because you'll not get a very friendly response if it isn't.

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    As you may know, Lewingtons used to have a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue in London for many years. They closed up and went to distribution etc. when rents got too high (Ray's Jazz shop used to be along the road from there and they were only saved by Foyles bookshop offering them a place in their Charing Cross Road premises).

    I have looked at Lewington's site often, thinking of purchasing but being suspect about the same items listed for a great deal of time (years?) on their site. You've confirmed my suspicions.

    The only item I ever bought physically from their shop, by the way (I only became sax-ually active a few years before they closed) was an ex-demo Otto STM alto without original lig. and they gave me a cheapo Rovner-type lig. and cap and the deal cost me £70, which I think was a genuine bargain.

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    Forum Contributor 2006 sanchophone's Avatar
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    I bought few things from Lewington's when they were still in Shaftesbury avenue because it was convenient. They were the kind of shop keepers that would make you feel guilty and apologise for getting in the shop. They are an old fashion type of business that charges rip off pices and which subsits thanks to the loyal British consumers who generally paid whatever they are charged.

    Unfortunately the rip off trend persists in the UK even with new saxophone traders ( I will not mention names). A STM in wwbw is 120 dollars against 280 dollars or more in the UK. This is just not justifiable by any means even considering the custom duties, shipping costs and taxes that UK retailers have to pay.

    Actually, I have seen many UK or European sax products much cheaper in the USA than in the UK.

    Sorry I deviated but this topic drives me mad... and makes me buy everything from the USA. Actually when I bought my Custom Z it was so much cheaper in the US that I bought it there and actually paid for a return ticket to NY to pick it up and to enjoy a weekend break there for less than the price of the same sax in the UK. This is bad!

  4. #4

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    Yes, the web site is way out of date and tends to entice in private buyers; pretty daft for what is now (as described above) a wholesale distributor. Their reputation over the years has been of high prices; approaching rip-off from what I hear.

    I once went to a local shop to look at an alto for a friend. It was the Lewington own brand (named after the street alongside - can't remember the name). The sling ring was off centre by about an inch. Try holding a sax twisted to compensate! The shopkeeper told me that there could not be a problem because it came from Lewingtons who were so reliable. Taiwanese import (from the mid-1990s) it's true, but the experience did not say much about quality control .... or the shop, of course.
    Buescher TT alto + Barone Jazz HR AND Buescher Big B Aristocrat tenor + Morgan Jazz L
    Conn 12M baritone + Erik Greiffenhagen custom HR

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    Quote Originally Posted by sanchophone
    ...They were the kind of shop keepers that would make you feel guilty and apologise for getting in the shop. ...
    I love places that make you feel like they are doing you a favor to consider accepting your business. I understand the attitude when it's a young person working for minimum wage and no benefits at a mass merchandiser, but aren't the smaller shops' supposedly personalized, friendly service one of their few advantages over chain stores?

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    Forum Contributor 2008 DaveR's Avatar
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    All these stories of the old Lewington's shop make me smile. I was a student in London during the 1970s and can vouch for the abominably snotty treatment a young muso could suffer. Unless you were *Tony Coe* or similar, the younger sales staff were invariably condescending at best and at times plain rude. However, to restore some historical balance, Dennis Lewington who ran the shop floor in those days, was - beneath it all - actually very contentious. As a young lad a I once went in for an 'edgier' mouthpiece (OK, OK, this was the 70s!!) and Dennis, bless him, deftly steered me to a cheap alternative, realizing that my chops were to blame, not the mouthpiece I already had.

    I sympathize with anyone who has had a raw deal recently; it’s not good. However, don’t forget that Lewington’s has one of the best woodwind repairers in the UK on their premises.

    Lewington’s was an institution in London at one time; stories like the above give me a strange sense of satisfaction that some things never change! (Apollogies to the aggrieved).

    Dave

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    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2011 rogerb40uk's Avatar
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    I had a quite different experience, in about the late 60s.

    I walked in to just look at the unaffordable altos, but was approached by a middle-aged man who said "Why don't you have a blow on one?", gave me a sax (can't remember what) and directed me to the practice rooms, where I was amazed to be able to blow a scale! (I'd never touched a sax previously!).

    It helped sow the seed which eventually put up a shoot nearly 40 years later
    Roger
    BW Copper Prototype 'Pro' alto
    Hiscox PRO-II case
    Alto Mouthpiece Cafe NY 6

  8. #8

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    Their website is a waste of webspace! I contacted them about one thing or another over the years and they never seemed to have what they were advertising. Ignore them, they will appreciate that.

  9. #9

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    I ordered a bronze tenor Berg from them in 2000 and got prompt, efficient service. Maybe I was just lucky.

    Never been totally happy with the Berg, though, so maybe I was unlucky after all. If they had given me poor service, I might have gone elsewhere and bought something else.

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    I used to go into Lewingtons a lot in the early 80's and actually bought a few things. I'm sure when they advertised for staff they put " Must be a complete a...hole" I once spent all day trying top end Yamaha flutes , picked a beaut but when I got on the train home and had a peak it had a huge dent in the body,,the old fellow who served me looked like Bela Lugosi's dad..his hands were shaking so much he must have wacked it on their lovely glass cabinet/counter they stood behind. I took it back ,couldn't find another in my nervous state and they basically threw me out " before Mr Lewington gets back" Because of Ronnies proximity though you often saw star players..I stood next to Bud Shank once.
    My friend told me a funny story last week about when he was in there trying flutes..he was playing a cycle of fourths or something and Ronnie Scott shouted " Oy he's playing my notes!" Happy days ..I also miss it in a perverse way although Michael White's impersonation of Basil Faulty could be quite funny..

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    Forum Contributor 2008 DaveR's Avatar
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    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Ward
    although Michael White's impersonation of Basil Faulty could be quite funny..


    Oh stop it!


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    Lewington's web site is a disgrace - it's out of date, and crap. The same could have been said about their old shop....

    So many better places to spend my hard earned cash.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveR
    I sympathize with anyone who has had a raw deal recently; it’s not good. However, don’t forget that Lewington’s has one of the best woodwind repairers in the UK on their premises.
    Dave
    Fortunately for me, Bill Lewington's new premises are just a stone's throw from where I work.

    I've never bought equipment directly from Lewington's (although I must have indirectly, as they supply all the music shops in my area). However, I do take my saxes to their repair shop and can also vouch for the friendly and expert service provided by Lewington's repairer.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Hi All.
    I realise I'm dredging up an very old topic, but I was doing an internet search, sort of trip down memory
    lane and came across this, so registered and am now posting in defence of old Bills reputation.
    I was a military band trombonist, and when I came out aged 22, my first job was in Bills shop
    on Shaftesbury avenue as a sales assistant.
    They were heady days.
    If you were around back then, you will remember that Jazz was enjoying a huge revival.
    I swear, every man, woman and their dog wanted a sax.
    Not just any old sax mind you.
    Oh no, these people had done their homework and knew the Selmer MK 6's were the one's to have.
    Then the American beer commercial came out.
    Remember the one.
    The young sax man who can't quite get it together so goes to the old grandmaster Charlie Parker
    lookalike, they have a beer and suddenly it all works.
    I swear to you, when that commercial came out people were near enough queueing outside the door for
    saxes.
    We never saw much of Bill.
    He was upstairs where all the wholesale work was going on.
    Dennis Lewington ran the shop, along with his nephew Ian Lewington.
    Then there were about 4 young sales staff, of which I was one from 1985 - 1987.
    I realise that many of you have bad memories of the shop, and the attitude, but I can't honestly say
    I say any of that.
    Dennis of course was Dennis, and always spoke his mind, and could seem a condecending, but that
    was just the way he came across.
    In reality, he was a top bloke.
    He was quite strict though.
    His pet hate was seeing staff standing around doing nothing.
    If we weren't serving customers, we should be polishing instruments, was his philosophy.
    I was lucky enough during my time there to meet some of the worlds leading players.
    Whenever they were in London, playing at Ronnies, they always came to Bills shop.
    I remember one day we had nearly the whole Buddy Rich big band in the shop trying instruments.
    That was fantastic.
    One week Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers were at Ronnie's, and their trumpet player Terrence
    Blanchard came in and I got quite friendly with him.
    So much so that he told me to come along, make myself known, and he'd introduce me to the band.
    Well, there I was, that night in the queue outside Ronnies when a black cab pulls up, and half the
    band get out, including Terence Blanchard.
    He saw me there, shouted "HEY ANDY", put his arm around me, took me out of the queue and marched
    me straight into the club where I had a beer with the guys back stage.
    What a guy, but that's what I noticed working in Lewingtons.
    The really big players were the nicest most humble down to earth people you could meet.
    It was the wannabe's, and people who were only players in their heads, who were the ********.
    Yeah OK I know that some of you thought we were a bunch of holes too, but you have to remember that we
    had to take a lot of stick off customers, most of whome couldn't even blow their own noses and it really
    was trying at times because most of us were players ourselves, who could blow the nuts off most people
    that walked through the doors, but a lot of customers treated us like we were not real musicians, just
    because we worked in a shop.
    There are two sides to every coin, and that's the flipside to that one.
    Oh and it's not true that BL's moved because the rents became too high.
    Bill actually owned that site outright.
    There was no rent.
    I really miss those days working at Bill Lewingtons.

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    Distinguished SOTW Coffee Guru milandro's Avatar
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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Hey, when I was living in London in the mid seventies I went often to Bill Lewington's and I was always helped courteously ,I was a poor student, never bought a thing and they let me try everything there, must have been because of my Italian accent

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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Like Andy above I worked there, but in the workshop. I think all the posts have been valid so far. I could talk all day about my experiences there good and bad.It's true that unless you were well known you could expect very ordinary treatment in the shop.I worked there for nearly 7 years and there was a collosal turnover in shop staff due due the crap wages and Denis Lewington (I think Andy was very generous in his appraisal of him) D. Lewington was allowed to "run" the shop due to having bailed his brother Bill out in earlier days. The animosity between the two of them was palpable at all times.
    Because they had the wholesale distribution on Yamaha wind instuments, (as well as LeBlanc and Murumatsu) Lewingtons made squillions. In reality it was the most expensive shop in the UK to buy a Yamaha instrument because they made a profit on it wherever you bought it regardless, so they always charged full mrrp.
    Yamaha pulled the plug on it in the late 80's I think and opened Yamaha Kemble. Lewingtons was then reduced to dealing in Armstrong, King and Artley as well as the
    first wave of Taiwanese instruments. It's downward trajectory continued when Bill died and the business was broken up. Bill Lewinton's wife Ann only just managed to keep the name going and along with a couple of trusted staff members and it became what it is now.
    The workshop was almost a seperate entity. I was incredibly fortunate to get a start as apparently they got job applications on a daily basis. Phillip Williams has been their head woodwind repairer since time began(!) and a more professional, easy going man you'd be hard pressed to find. His list of clients is a "who's who" of the last 50 or more years in international jazz and classical music and the quality of his work is second to none. Freddy Gregory also worked there before he started making mouthpieces - another genius. I'm still a repairer nearly 30 years on and reckon if I'm any good at all I owe it to Phil for teaching me a few of the trade secrets.
    Again like Andy I only found this because I was doing an internet search and sort of felt compelled to write something as I don't think there'll ever be anything like it again in the UK anyway. If you read this Andy I'm pretty sure I remember you - I was the young Scottish guy who couldn't play the bagpipes!!

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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Very interesting the new posts above. I think there were many firms and establishments like Lewingtons in the UK in those pre internet days. If they didn't destroy you they made you stronger..I sort of miss it in a perverse way. I always remember some big fleshy kid ( we used to call them " big Jessies), a saxophone salesmen/ player handing me a Dukoff tenor piece and trying it then taking it back to the counter and saying I didn't like it and his response was a loud " Why what's wrong with it?"
    I found Dennis terrifying in a kind of Mafioso way..you could never tell what kind of mood he'd be in with that false politeness often adopted in West End shops.
    I still have a smile though if I'm on Shaftsbury.

    I think music shops still are in general staffed by musicians in between gigs and so can be pretty hit and miss. There was a shop in my hometown once " Hudsons"...going in there was a bit like the scene in " Last of the Mohicans" where Daniel Day Lewis enters the Huron encampment and is approached by one Huron after another who cut or club him and he has to put up with it to get what he wants. Character building. Thankfully I've
    never had to work in one or maybe I'd have been the same.

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    Forum Contributor 2008 DaveR's Avatar
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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Ward View Post
    ...... I still have a smile though if I'm on Shaftsbury.
    Yeah, me too. I was in the West End a couple of days this week and popped into the old Lewington's shop which is now a 'FOPP' CD & DVD shop. I was amazed by how much space they had there, basement and first floor as well as the ground floor which was all I ever saw. I know the repairers were on the first floor, but what about the basement? Old Jazzers perhaps?



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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    yes I remember how much fun I had over there when as I said, as a poor student, I visited the place and played instruments that I could not afford.

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    Default Re: Disappointed with Bill Lewington, UK

    The basement was very weird when it was Lewingtons Dave wasn't it? Sheet music ? I think I bought Yusef Lateefs flute book of the Blues there. I popped into Lewingtons in its last days when on a rare visit to EMI and they had a new Mark V1 nino ...for 5 grand . I thought that was a bit steep.

    BTW I think Andy's right about there being 2 sides to every coin..who would want to deal with the general public every day? Still if they are paying your wages.

    Talking of Phil Todd Dave I actually met him originally I think at Bill Wrathall's bench at Ealing and we were having a laugh about old Michael White...I think Phil had just spent 5 grand on a new horn
    there and the next week bought a box of reeds and had to pay the full amount for the reeds down to the last penny. We were having a laugh about that.

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